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Archive for September, 2015

Autumn olive

This was the title of a question posted on our Discussion Board several weeks ago. Here is the post:

Autumn olive

Autumn olive in fall

What is the name of the invasive species of small bush/tree with thousands of little red berries, and is spreading like kudzu? It grows two or three inches a day seems like, and is dominating every hedge row in my area. I live near Stuart, Virginia. What is the best way to eradicate them?

My guess was autumn olive but I asked for some additional information to be sure of the identification:

The silvery undersides of the autumn olive leaves

The silvery undersides and
alternate arrangement of 
autumn olive leaves

Are the undersides of the leaves silvery in color and are the leaves arranged alternately on the branches? If the leaves are arranged opposite each other on the branches and the leaves are green, then it would be a bush honeysuckle. In either case, they are both invasive and hard to control.

He replied back that the leaves were silvery underneath and they were arranged in an alternate pattern on the stem.

Autumn Olive – as I suspected.

Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) is a deciduous shrub that is native to China, Japan, and Korea. It was introduced to the United States in 1830 as a fast growing shrub that could be used to quickly revegetate disturbed areas and provide erosion control as well as habitat and food for wildlife. It certainly did the job but unfortunately did it so well that the shrub has now become invasive in much of the eastern and central US.

Pale yellow autumn olive flowers

Pale yellow autumn olive flowers

Autumn olive is very prolific and is as happy growing on dry, rocky, infertile slopes as it is growing in rich garden soil. It is drought tolerant, salt tolerant, and even grows in very acidic soil.

This is one tough plant!

One of the reasons that autumn olive is able to thrive in nutrient-poor soils is its ability to produce its own nitrogen with nitrogen-fixing root nodules. This can become a problem for many of the native species that are adapted to areas with infertile soil because it interferes with the natural nutrient cycle.

In addition, because of its vigorous growth and quick spreading habit, autumn olive can easily outcompete and displace these native plants.

Autumn olive laden with fruit

Autumn olive laden with fruit

The other problem is that these shrubs produce a tremendous number of small red fruits all along their branches and each of these contains a seed. Birds and other animals apparently scarf up the fruit and are responsible for dispersing the seeds far and wide!

Autumn olive fruit contains a lot of lycopene and is apparently quite tasty when it is perfectly ripe. Before that time, it has a very bitter taste due to high levels of tannin – similar to unripe persimmon fruit. The few that I tried the other day, though deep red in color, really made me pucker up! Definitely not ripe yet! The tannin content decreases as the fruit ripens and it becomes sweeter. If you look online, you can find quite a few recipes which use autumn olive fruit to make jam, juice, and other things!

BUT …

These shrubs ARE invasive and efforts should be made to control them. However, this is no easy task! If you cut them down or burn them, they quickly sprout vigorous new growth from the base. Seedlings pop up everywhere the fruit/seeds drop.

Deep red fruit is speckled with silvery scales

The deep red fruit of autumn olive is
speckled with silvery scales

Seedlings can be hand pulled but it is best to do this when the ground is moist so you increase the chances of removing the entire root.

Seedlings and young shrubs can be controlled by spraying the foliage with triclopyr (found in many brush killers) or glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) according to the label directions.

Large, mature shrubs are harder to kill. One of the best methods is to cut them down and then immediately apply an herbicide containing glyphosate or triclopyr directly to the freshly cut stump according to the label directions for stump treatment. You can use a paint brush or a spray bottle to apply the herbicide and if you add a dye to the mix, you can easily see when you have good coverage on the stump.

One of the best times to do this is in the early fall before the fruit (with seeds!) matures. At this time, the plants are beginning to prepare for winter by moving nutrients and stored starches from their leaves into their roots. Spraying systemic herbicides at this time (for any perennial weed) means that these chemicals get transported down to the roots more quickly thereby increasing their efficacy.

Good luck if you have this stuff! It is growing in dense thickets around our little orchard and every year it seems to close in a bit more!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Corn crop destroyed by critters

We have had more trouble with critters enjoying our garden this year than ever before!

It is being a challenge to say the least.

End of June - pre-woodchucks

End of June – pre-woodchucks

Healthy pole beans and sweet potato vines

Healthy pole beans and sweet potatoes

It started back in the spring when cucumber beetles infected many of my small cucumber plants with bacterial wilt. I lost probably 50 percent of my original crop before I realized what the problem was and sprayed the plants with Bonide Eight. I had to reseed and also buy some plants to replace the ones that were lost. I kept on top of them after that and ended up with a great crop of cucumbers until disease finally destroyed the vines in mid August. At least I was able to enjoy lots of delicious cucumbers and make lots of pickles!

Most of the lower leaves were eaten

Most of the lower leaves were eaten

Woodchucks have been the worst problem this year. Despite the fence and wildlife netting we have around the garden, somehow at least one managed to get in. We first noticed it when all the leaves of our sweet potato vines were chewed off. Then the lower leaves of the pole beans began to disappear! At least it didn’t bite off the growing tip of the bean vine and they continued to climb up the poles. The plants were just leafless at the bottom.

We searched the perimeter of the garden and found a spot or two where it looked like some critter might have been getting under the fence. In those areas, we took some old fencing, bent it at a right angle, and pinned it down so that it extended about 2 feet out along the ground on the outside of the main fence. We hoped that would do the trick.

The beans had begun to recover by the time I took this photo

The beans had begun to recover
by the time I took this photo

After that, all was well for a while … until one day when Eric noticed that the leaves along the top of the bean trellis were being eaten! Our bean trellis is sort of like a pergola made out of bamboo poles. There are two rows of 8 uprights and then bamboo cross pieces join the two rows along the top. This allows the vines to grow between the poles at a manageable height (once they reach to top of the poles) so that I can easily reach the beans to pick.

It’s a great system but we were baffled as to how the foliage at the top was being eaten! Certainly if a woodchuck tried to climb the poles to get at the top leaves, they would have knocked the poles over or at a minimum torn down many of the vines in the process. Plus, I don’t think the cross pieces could support even the weight of a small woodchuck. Yet the leaves were chewed right off!

The only critter we could think of that might be able (and willing) to do this was a squirrel. Squirrels have been enjoying the foliage and flowers of the petunias on our deck for years. Actually, they have recently switched to the coleus and tomato leaves since there are no petunias left! So it seems entirely possible that squirrels are the bean robbers. How in the world could you keep them out?

They left us only the cobs!

They left us only the cobs!

A few weeks later just as the Silver Queen corn was beginning to ripen, we went out to the garden and found that about two thirds of the corn in the Three Sisters garden had been pulled down and the ears were chewed down to the cob. Normally I would blame this on raccoons but I’m wondering if it was the woodchuck(s) again. To make matters worse, since it’s the Three Sisters garden, when they tore down the corn, they also tore down the rattlesnake beans that were climbing up the corn stalks! We can’t see where they might be getting in – it’s very frustrating.

Destruction in the Three Sisters garden!

Destruction in the Three Sisters garden!

Not much left of this butternut squash!

Not much left of this
butternut squash!

After the corn, the woodchuck started in on the butternut squash. He just got one or two before we discovered this latest attack! Luckily we were able to protect the rest of the squash from being eaten. It was too early to harvest so Eric pulled the squash (still on the vines) together in groups and we were able to set them in plastic crates with another crate wired on top like a little cage. A few of the squash were off by themselves so I just put one crate upside down over them and pinned it down with landscaping pins. This seems to have kept the critters at bay – for now. Hopefully it will last until it’s time to harvest the squash.

Our improvised squash protection cage!

One of our improvised squash protection cages! So far so good!

Oh boy! What next? So far everyone has mostly left the tomatoes and peppers alone. Guess I’d better knock on wood! And at this point the beans seem to be recovering and producing new foliage and flowers. Perhaps the acorns and hickory nuts are beginning to ripen!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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